Does cold stunt plant growth/development?

I have been told, and have read, that planting plants when it is still cold out will stunt their growth. Is the growth temporarily delayed until warmer weather, or is the plant stunted for life?
For example, I have read that tomatoes should not be transplanted into the garden when the soil is still cold because they will get stunted. Also, tomatoes transplanted when the soil is warm ripen at about the same time as tomatoes transplanted weeks earlier when the soil was still cold.
I understand that hardening off acclimates the plants to wind, sun, etc., but here I am talking about the specific effects of temperature on plant growth/development. Does hardening off acclimate plants to change in temperature (as well as wind and sun)?

It might uncomplicate the replies if there’s one plant in particular on your mind?

i find trees and bushes still put out roots when its still too cold to leaf out but depending on the type of annuals it definitly could stunt them asp. cold sensitive ones like pepper/ tomatoes.

@BlueBerry: Two examples of plants I have in mind: tomato and edible fig tree.
@steveb4: By “stunt” do you mean their growth/development is temporarily slowed and will resume when temps go up or do you mean they are permanently stunted and will they will never reach their genetic potential for growth/development.

I think it the cold stunting mostly applies to tropical or subtropical plants.

I know my Meyer lemon will get temporarily stunted if kept outside on a 40° night in the spring.

Tomatoes is a good example. Corn, even.
Tomatoes planted 15 to 30 days before the last frost-free day (and protected on cold nights) bear fruits only maybe 7 days ahead of tomatoes planted 30 days later…and never quite catch up in production.
That’s my ‘anectdotal’ experience.

Still, that’s one less trip buying tomatoes at the grocer’s per year.

My results with tomatoes are highly variable, depending on variety, but they suffer here from early blight and I stop spraying plants for it once the first tomatoes are close to ripening. I also only grow indeterminate varieties and some of the cherry tomatoes like Chocolate Sun, Sungold and the grape tomato Valentine can be planted early and stay vigorously productive until they freeze.

Cool weather can come anytime in spring here and the tomatoes don’t thrive outside until the soil is pretty warm, usually not until mid-may at the earliest.

I get my early tomatoes by starting them in February, I just put some in their final pots, moved them outdoors and placed them by the southern wall of my house where the driveway meets my basement. This year I expect first tomatoes before the end of May- cherries and grapes.

However the large tomato varieties will likely stop producing by mid-Aug after bowing out to early blight, especially my favorite, Brandywine types, although last year they almost died and than resurged to give me a few later tomatoes. Most of my late gourmet tomatoes come from plants that I set out in mid-June.

As far as figs, I bring them outdoors in early April from my “root cellar” when dormant and hope that by the time they have tender leaves we get no more frosts- they have had such leaves for about a week now and if frost comes again I will have to throw a tarp over them.

Stunting defined as never achieving full vigor shouldn’t be a problem and stalling out during a cool period does not necessarily damage productivity in my experience- with either figs, peppers or indeterminate tomato plants.

depending on the plant and temps they could be set back significantly enough that they may not preform to thier potential in a growing season. if given enough time to recover though, they could make up for it.

Once I planted tomatoes out and they were hit by 38F with rain for 5 days. I have to cover them with plastic. After I uncovered them, they got hit by sun(plastic was not that transparent and it was generally dark for 5 days) and got sunburn… They were slow to recover, but other than to be 2 weeks late I didn’t see any long term problems…


I recently posted about the Haskap bush I just moved. It was starting to green out while a good chunk of the roots were still encased in a layer of underground ice.

So no, no stunting there. Haskaps routinely get snowed in during flowering and not lose a petal. Saskatoons seem to be in the same boat, one of the first bushes to wake up. A few of my apple trees are rated to zone 2, one to zone 1 (Kerr) so I seriously doubt they would be stunted if a bit of a cold snap happens.

On the other hand tomatoes catch a whiff of cold and they refuse to do anything. They do start behaving once the temperature is more to their liking. Here there is little point growing spinach and basil in the ground as the temperatures make it bolt by the third set of leaves. While they will not get ‘stunted’ it will mess with what you want out of them.

What are you trying to grow?

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